Selected Criticism

Gilchrist, Herbert Harlakenden (1857–1914)
Alcaro, Marion Walker
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Herbert Gilchrist, a painter, was born in London, son of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. In 1876, when he accompanied his mother and sisters to America, he was a student at the Royal Academy of Arts. During the two years that the Gilchrists lived in Philadelphia, he continued painting on his own—for the most part, painting Whitman. However, in the winter that the Gilchrists spent in New York (1878–1879), he studied under William Merritt Chase.

Herbert's devotion to Whitman was the dominating force in his life. Like his mother's devotion to the poet, it began long before they met. When he was seventeen, Anne wrote to Walt that Herbert had read Leaves of Grass "quite through" with "a large measure of responsive delight" (qtd. in Alcaro 149). In America, Walt became the center of his existence. In Philadelphia, in addition to seeing the poet almost daily at the Gilchrists' house, Herbert often visited him in Camden and joined him at the Staffords' farm. There can be little doubt that Herbert was one of Walt's young lovers. When the Gilchrists returned to England (1879), like his mother, Herbert wrote regularly to Walt and helped collect funds for him. After Anne died in 1885, Herbert hastily compiled a biography, Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings (1887), and returned to Philadelphia to paint Walt's portrait.

Herbert's powerful portrait of Whitman was warmly acclaimed in London. In Philadelphia its reception was less enthusiastic. Whitman preferred Eakins's portrait, claiming that Herbert had "prettified" him, given him "Italianate" curls (qtd. in Alcaro 175). However, Horace Traubel also recorded Walt's refusal to be too hard on it: "I love Herbert too much," Walt told Thomas Harned (Traubel 156). Herbert lived in Philadelphia for several years, visiting the ailing poet faithfully. He was a speaker at Walt's seventieth birthday celebration. After Whitman's death, Gilchrist returned to England. In 1914 he took his own life.


Alcaro, Marion Walker. Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: A Biography of Anne Gilchrist. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1991.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 1. 1906. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.


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